Day 2 of the conference opened with a fascinating keynote on Fairy Tales in East and West presented by Özge Tığlı. It was followed by a panel discussion, Publishing Here, There and Everywhere moderated by translator, Laura Watkinson. The panel featured Brooks Sherman from The Bent Agency, Greet Pauwelijn the Publisher at Book Island, and Majo de Saedeleer of O Mundo. There was a vigorous discussion with some audience questions on what the differences are in books published in different parts of the world.
I would love to have attended Esther Hershenhorn’s Intensive on Getting Your Stories Right, but it clashed with my presentation of my workshop, Waging War – Casting Your Characters into Conflict.
There were twenty-six very enthusiastic participants at my workshop, which focussed on heightening conflict and raising the stakes for characters, including a focus on individual scenes.
TEN TIPS FOR PUTTING CHARACTERS INTO CONFLICT
- Raise the stakes – Make things even harder for your character. Think of the worst thing that can happen to your character and make something even worse happen.
- Eliminate/revise backstory –Look to see if your scene contains backstory – setting up information, giving character’s history etc. What information in this scene does the author need to know and what MUST the reader know.
If you want to include backstory, try to show it through actions rather than telling. In my YA thriller, submerged, my main character had a serious accident when she was a kid when a bird spooked her horse. Instead of telling the reader she is scared of birds because…. I show her fear of birds and then gradually reveal the reasons for it through actions – people reacting to her scars etc.
- Do you have the right characters in this scene?
- Do you have the right balance of internal and external conflict?
You do need quiet scenes leading up to big action scenes to help build the tension. But your characters can still be in conflict. You can use internal conflict to show disparity between what a character thinks they want and what they really want.
- What are your character’s values, and are these values being challenged by the scene?
- Emotions of the scene – What emotions do you want the reader to feel after reading this scene? What are the emotions of the characters in the scene? Can you show subtext through actions – perhaps show that your characters goals are different to what they thought they were?
- What physical obstacles can you introduce to make things harder for a character?
These are things that will test their internal and external resolve.
- How can you use setting to make these obstacles even more insurmountable?
- What difficult decisions will your POV character have to make after/because of this scene?
- What questions will the scene raise for the reader to entice them to keep reading?
A gripping opening is essential to hook publishers, agents and readers.
I have a number of projects I’m about to submit so In the afternoon, I attended Brooks session on writing a gripping opening. It was interesting to hear this from an agent’s perspective.
Brooks talked about some common faults with openings:
- Too much set up or exposition
- Too much action without context
- Great voice going nowhere
- Start where your story begins
- Prologues are not popular.
Although Brooks did clarify that prologues have their place in the right story.
Focus on action at hand rather than setting up story.
The first chapter should establish status quo of character’s world and at end of first chapter, things start to shift.
- Starting in middle of action with no context
- First day of school
- Moving day
Essentials of a Query Letter
According to Brooks, a query letter should establish:
- Rules of the world
- Overarching conflict
- Who character is
- What environment is?
- What stakes are.
FINAL DAY – PEER CRITIQUE BRUNCH AND MEET MY BOOK
There were two days of panels, keynotes and intensives, but the conference actually went for a total of four days. On the Friday before the conference started, Mina had organised a Scrawl Crawl where we were guided around Amsterdam by an expert historian and given a chance to get to know each other and our surrounds.
On the final day, there was a peer critique brunch where we had a chance to get feedback on presubmitted work. Our moderator was Esther Hershenhorn and she was amazing. All four of us walked away with new ideas and enthusiasm for our stories.
Somehow my 12 year old character has now ended up in Chicago with a new baby brother on the way. It has added so much more conflict to my story, and I’m loving it – although my character, Eddy is quite unhappy about the whole thing – for now anyway.
MEET MY BOOK
We had a chance to talk about and read from our books and there was book sales and signing. Afterwards, the bookshop presented us all with lovely flowers.
After the conference was over, we headed to Paris where I spent time researching for my new YA adventure, Paris Hunting.
I’ll talk about this in next week’s blog post, The Risks of Research.
I hope you enjoyed the conference wrap up. If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to include them after this post.